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Around the World in 50 Books

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Slim Aarons / Stringer

We collected some the finest literature from around the world, paying close attention to the books and stories that represent “place.” Some of what you’ll find below are classics of our time, while others are more obscure finds from forgotten corners of the globe. Wherever the list lands you, however, let it be the starting point for your next adventure.



Russia | The Master and Margarita

The Devil and his Satanic circus have come to Moscow. A fantastical example of samizdat — banned publications critical of the Soviet government. Bulgakov started writing his satirical masterpiece in 1928, but wouldn’t see it published until 1967. A powerful exploration of resistance in an all-too-familiar Russia. $10


The Middle East | The Thousand and One Nights

Scheherazade tells nightly tall tales to stave off her execution. This classic seems a far cry from the twenty-first-century Middle East as westerners know it; yet it virtuously extolls Bedouin oral literature, one of many traditions often overshadowed by terrorism and war. $10


India | Gitanjali

The finest poetic work of the man Mahatma Gandhi called “the Great Sentinel of India.” Gitanjali (meaning “song offerings”) is an ode to the land and soul of the vast sub-continent. $23


China | Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio

Spirit foxes, ghosts, immortal beings and fantastical beasts, an examination of Chinese feudalism in all its immorality — Strange Tales is a cultural cornerstone. A fascinating time capsule from a bygone Imperial era, its contents inform and convey entrenched Chinese inequities like no other. $10


Japan | In Praise of Shadows

An unparalleled essay on Japanese aesthetics. Tanizaki’s exploration of wabi-sabi — a focus on and an awareness of transience and imperfection — contrasts the shadow of traditional Japanese space with the Western insistence on completeness and light. $10



Nigeria | Things Fall Apart

The standard-bearer for modern African literature, Things Fall Apart is profound. Okonkwo, the novel’s protagonist, represents tradition under the pressure of British colonialism. The language of the novel — English, interspersed with Igbo proverbs — communicates the continual struggle of Nigerians to form a distinct identity in the wake of colonization. $7


Senegal | The Collected Poetry of Leopold Sedar Senghor

Leopold Sedar Senghor is perhaps best known as the first president of an independent Senegal, but long before that he was a powerhouse African intellectual. His poetry is foundational to the négritude movement — a predominantly francophone African school of writers and artists celebrating black African experience. $39


Ghana | The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born

A nameless protagonist struggles to reconcile the optimism of Ghanaian independence with the reality of corruption and greed among African elites. Beautyful Ones is a novel searching for hope in despair. $19


Algeria | The Wretched of the Earth

A singular influence on nearly every African liberation movement of the twentieth century, The Wretched of the Earth represents not only Algeria (Fanon was a member of the Algerian National Liberation Front), but the very idea of an post-colonial continent. $14


Kenya | Devil on the Cross

Ngugi wa Thiong’o is frequently cited as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Devil on the Cross was originally written in Kikuyu and translated by Ngugi himself while he was a political prisoner under the repressive Moi regime. The novel focuses on the complicity of the Kenyan government in the wholesale economic disenfranchisement of its people. $12


Madagascar | Translated from the Night

Senghor considered Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo to be Africa’s first modern poet. He is also one of the earliest to write in Malagasy, an African language. A tragic suicide in 1937 cut his career short before it had a chance truly to begin. This collection represents his best work. $9


Botswana | Maru

Maru is, on its surface, a love story. Beneath the surface, however, is an extraordinary examination of race relations in Botswana. Bessie Head is intimately acquainted with what it means to be an outsider and this short novel is a crowning achievement of Southern African literature. $13


South Africa | Long Walk to Freedom

Nelson Mandela’s autobiography is more than simple recall. Long Walk to Freedom is the story of South Africa itself — embattled, harsh, vast, loving, hopeful, and so much besides. $10


South Africa | Story of an African Farm

Story of an African Farm is no ordinary novel. Examining women’s liberation and racial equality 65 years before apartheid, this novel presages the issues which would consume the embattled nation for much of the twentieth century. $13


Zimbabwe | When a Crocodile Eats the Sun

A memoir by a white Zimbabwean about the escalating political violence in the early days of independence. Part history, part family chronicle, this is a beautifully written expostulation of brutality. $9



Iceland | The Atom Station

The Atom Station is perhaps the best novel of Iceland’s only Nobel Laureate. The work centers around Ugla, a countrywoman who moves to the capital city of Reykjavik. There she is confronted by a rapidly modernizing landscape. $16


Ireland | Ulysses

Nearly 1,000 pages covering just one day in Dublin, Ulysses is the modernist lodestar. Joyce’s story is so celebrated that the day in question has become an unofficial holiday in Dublin called Bloomsday. $28


UK | White Teeth

Zadie Smith is widely lauded as one of the greatest living novelists. Her debut novel, White Teeth, is among her best. Surrounding the interwoven lives of two London families — one native-born, the other of immigrants — this novel is the story of a modern, metropolitan Britain. $10


Norway | Growth of the Soil

Knut Hamsun is a controversial figure in literary history, but his writing is undoubtedly exemplary. Growth of the Soil won him the Nobel Prize, and for good reason; Norwegian agrarian society has never so clearly been brought to life. $13


Portugal | The Book of Disquiet

Fernando Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet defies categorization. Part diary, part existential digression, part love-letter to Lisbon, The Book of Disquiet is the finest work of Portugal’s greatest poet. A masterful exploration of what it means to be a ‘common man’ in the urban sprawl. $15


Spain | For Whom the Bell Tolls

Ernest Hemingway’s romantic classic, framed around his experiences during the Spanish Civil War, is truly epic. Set in the countryside between Madrid and Segovia, Hemingway’s novel comes into contact with characters both imagined and real, evoking the hope and turmoil of a war which would come to define the country for nearly a century. $12


Germany, Poland | The Tin Drum

Gunter Grass’s finest work, The Tin Drum, is a powerful exploration of a “liberated” Europe. Told from the perspective of Oskar Metzerath, the narrative follows Oskar’s conscious decision to never grow up, backdropped by the very adult horrors of the second World War. $9


France | Paris Vagabond

Jean-Paul Clebert’s ode to the Paris underworld was written over several years while the author was living among the city’s homeless population. Paris Vagabond is a strange and evocative story of a hidden Parisian life. $12


Italy | The Art of Joy

The Art of Joy, written over several years and finished in 1976, was considered too scandalous to publish. The author wouldn’t live to see the Italian publication in 1998 and the work was only translated into English in 2014. Yet, Sapienza’s work is a masterpiece covering nearly all of twentiety-century Italian history. $14


Greece | The Iliad

The classical epic of the Hellenic wars is a monolithic influence on all literature which proceeded it. Homer’s tale continues to draw curious minds to Greece. $12


Turkey | My Name Is Red

Set in the sixteenth-century Ottoman Empire,My Name is Red is an extraordinary experiment of historical fiction illuminating the long and illustrious history of Ottoman artwork and thought. $10

North America


USA | Walden

Thoreau’s transcendentalist manifesto, written in solitude in a cabin at Walden Pond, details the New England landscape and the traditional American spirit of individualism like no other work. $11


USA | Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Hallucinatory, brutal, brilliant — Fear and Loathing has inspired many imitators, but few come close to matching its powder-keg intensity. Subtitled “A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream,” Thompson’s work invoked a criticism of the American century few would have dared. $9


USA | A River Runs Through It

A collection of semi-autobiographical stories of life in rural Montana. Fly-fishing, logging, forestry and the scenery of the wide American North abound. $8


USA | The Border Trilogy

Consisting of All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing and Cities of the Plain, Cormac McCarthy’s epic work describes life along the U.S.-Mexico border in his typically unflinching style. $25


USA | Infinite Jest

Famous for its exhaustingly digressive footnotes, Infinite Jest is a huge and multivalent story exploring the uniquely American obsession with entertainment. President Johnny Gentle seems particularly prescient. $12


USA | White Noise

The archetypal post-modern novel, White Noise is a nightmare vision of late twentieth-century America which still feels relevant today. Consumerism, conspiracy, pseudo-intellectualism, violence and the disintegration of family pervade DeLillo’s satirical masterwork. $10


Canada | White Fang

Set in the Yukon Territory, White Fang is Jack London’s best novel. In part a unique story concerning a wolf-dog hybrid, and in another sense a morality tale about mankind’s contact with nature, the novel sets out to elucidate allegorically the major concerns of the frontier generation of late nineteenth century outdoorsmen. $6


Canada | In the Skin of a Lion

An extremely detailed historical novel fictionalizing the lives of immigrants in Toronto. In the Skin of a Lion is the story of the building of modern Canada. $11


Mexico | The Labyrinth of Solitude

A series of brilliant essays on Mexican identity from one of the country’s most respected literary figures, The Labyrinth of Solitude posits that at the end of existential discovery, there is solitude. This solitude, Paz claims, informs the Mexican cultural traditions surrounding, among other things, death and the community of the fiesta. $10


Mexico | Pedro Páramo

Juan Rulfo’s striking novel concerns a man in search of his father in a town called Comala — a literal ghost-town. This short but powerful work had such an influence on Latin American literature that Gabriel Garcia Marquez claimed he “could recite the whole book, forwards and backwards.” $9


Dominican Republic | The Feast of the Goat

The story of Rafael Trujillo’s assassination and the aftermath of his dictatorship, The Feast of the Goat is a violent and extraordinary pseudo-history of the island nation told through the eyes of an expat, the assassination conspirators and the dictator himself. $8


St. Lucia | Omeros

Derek Walcott’s retelling of The Iliad from the perspective of modern St. Lucians is a masterclass in poetic craft and a celebration of Caribbean island identity. $14

South America


Various | The Motorcycle Diaries

Ernesto Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado decide to take a motorcycle trip together. Traveling for nine months by nearly every means of transportation and through eight different countries on two continents, the young idealists encounter a landscape brought to its knees by poverty and disease. This is the journey that inspired a young man to become the controversial communist revolutionary, Che. $9


Colombia | One Hundred Years of Solitude

Garcia Marquez’s magnum opus is a multigenerational novel written in the magical realist style. A beautiful and important work from the Colombian Nobel Laureate that would go on to inspire generations of writers the world over. $9


Chile | Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair

The best-selling Spanish-language poetry book ever written, with more than 20 million copies sold, from Chile’s greatest poet. Containing some of his most well-known poems, including the incomparable “Tonight I Can Write,” this is Neruda at his sensual best. $9


Argentina | Labyrinths

Jorge Luis Borges is one of the most influential and original writers of fiction in modern history. Labyrinths brings together some of his best-loved stories, including “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote”, a bizarre and wonderful story of a man who writes Don Quixote in its verbatim entirety without ever having read the original — and it outperforms Cervantes, despite being identical. $11


Brazil | The Violent Land

Set in the Bahia state of Brazil, Jorge Amado’s story of cacao plantations and the violence surrounding them is a classic of Brazilian literature, the themes of which echo through to today in those South American communities ravaged by drug-trade related crime. $11



Papua New Guinea | Into the Crocodile’s Nest

A journey into the modern-day heart of darkness, Benedict Allen’s account of his time in Papua New Guinea is gripping, an experience which immerses him entirely in the country’s native customs and unforgiving landscape. $29


Australia | The Tree of Man

A novel rich in Australian folklore and cultural myth, The Tree of Man was written when Patrick White settled in Sydney after a long metropolitan stint in London and elsewhere. White’s novel attempts to carve into being the emerging distinction between British-Australian and Australian proper. $7


Australia | For the Term of His Natural Life

Loosely based on the escape of cannibal Alexander Pearce, For the Term of His Natural Life is a fascinating novelization of early Australian history, surrounding the story of a man wrongly convicted of murder and the harsh conditions of both convict life and the Australian bush. $11


Australia | The Songlines

Written in an experimental style which has divided critical opinion since its publication, this extraordinary look at the Aboriginal concept of the Dreamtime is perhaps Chatwin’s best book. $12




An account of Ernest Shackleton’s failed Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition that serves as a striking introduction to this unforgiving landscape. $9


Into White Silence

The story of the Raven, a fictional vessel that went missing in the Antarctic Ocean in 1922. Anthony Eaton’s novel details the harsh realities of Antarctic expedition in a unique and thrilling voice. $9


The Worst Journey in the World

A firsthand account written by one of the survivors of the ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition. Upon its publication, nine years after the initial expedition, the tech gap which had led to tragedy had been filled. The central question of the book, then, is: had those men died in vain? A harrowing account of a harrowing journey. $13

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